Mining siege hit

Ore-rich town decries mining exploration

KASIBU, Nueva Vizcaya — Officials and residents of this upland town decried the unabated intrusion of foreign companies seeking to undertake large-scale mining exploration in remote villages.

Mayor Romeo Tayaban said two Australian mining firms continue to explore mining prospects in their villages despite stiff opposition from residents who come from various tribal communities.

“Our town used to be peaceful and quiet, despite the economic difficulties. Look at what is happening to us now. It is all because of these mining companies,” he said.

Tayaban said he was concerned about the hardships the villagers have been going through fighting off three mining projects being pushed by Oxiana Philippines Inc. (OPI) and OceanaGold Philippines Inc.

Since July 12, groups of indigenous people have been guarding a barricade along the mountain road that leads to Barangay (village) Pao to prevent OPI from exploring there.

Twenty-two men, three of them Bugkalot and Ifugao village chiefs, are facing cases filed by OPI representatives before the regional trial court in Bayombong town for setting up the road block.

In Papaya village, residents are protesting the entry of equipment to be used by OceanaGold for its exploration, fearing possible destruction of the watershed forests there. Water from the watershed irrigates the vegetable gardens and citrus plantations in the area.

In Didipio village, eight farmers were charged by environment officials with illegal occupancy of forest lands after they rejected OceanaGold’s offer to pay for their occupational rights.

Didipio village is the site of OceanaGold’s proposed gold-copper project, with about 90 hectares of its 375-hectare production area occupied by Kalanguya, Ibaloi and Ifugao farmers.

Tayaban said the people of Kasibu have long been aware of the economic gains the mining project is expected to generate for them.

Despite this, he said, they insist on planting fruit trees and vegetables.

Kasibu is considered the citrus capital of the country, with an annual output of about 10 million kilograms of oranges from an estimated 20,000 hectares of citrus plantations.

Farmers here also produce vegetables that are sold in various parts of Cagayan Valley, Cordillera, Central Luzon and Metro Manila.

Ramoncito Gozar, OceanaGold’s associate director for communications and external affairs, said mining projects in the town would benefit the country.

“[The mayor] should realize that [the Didipio venture] is a government project for the good of the majority. We, including all concerned, should follow laws and national government priorities,” he said.

“He doesn’t like mining, but [OceanaGold] is a contractor of the Philippine government to do exploration on the FTAA [financial and technical assistance agreement] area, and development and mining on the area granted by the Philippine government,” Gozar said.

Lourdes Dolinen, an official of OPI, could not be reached for comment on Monday. She did not respond to text messages sent to her mobile phone.

“Our people know what they want, and as their leader, I have to fight for their rights. I hope this government and the mining companies would respect the people’s will,” Tayaban said.

He also aired his frustration over what he called “lonely battle” against mining, and called on Catholic Bishop Ramon Villena to help them.

“[Church officials] used to tell us before to always [sustain] this fight. But where are they now? Even the bishop seems to have kept quiet while we are being besieged by these giant mining companies,” Tayaban said.

“Having the bishop on our side would be a great advantage because with his closeness to [President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo], he can just ask her to order these companies to leave Kasibu,” he said.

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